I find it beneficial to find someone in my tribe who is just a little bit further along in their journey than I am. These tribe members act like pathfinders by looking back on their own path and, with a certain amount of introspection, let me know about pitfalls or advice that can help me on my journey.
I have gathered a virtual group of recently graduated (graduate) students to act as our pathfinders. In this series of posts, you will hear their thoughts on questions that either graduate students have asked me or I have even wondered myself.
How can you participate in the conversation?
- Post your thoughts in the comments. If you’ve recently graduated, make sure to include that in your response.
- Email me directly.
- Share this post using the social media buttons to expand its reach.
Today’s pathfinder topic is self-care while in grad school. I’m a big proponent of self-care and hold tight to the idea of a self-care bank. This is the process of making continual deposits into your own well being to build up reserves to draw on when the workload becomes distinctly intense.
To get a sense of the idea of self-care in graduate school, I asked our pathfinders:
What, if anything, did you do daily/weekly/monthly for self-care while in graduate school?
One intensive basketball game every 2 weeks. Sleep long hours after hiking during weekends.
No, and I regret that.
I found it was important to include regular exercise, sufficient sleep, sufficient and reasonably healthy eating, recreation, socializing with friends or family, selfless service, and personal reflection and meditation.
I tried to keep regular hours in the lab where I focused and worked productively, and then when I left the lab I would try not to think about the unfortunate things happening in my research until I returned. Certainly I would think (sometimes obsessively) about interesting problems, or problems I felt I was making progress on outside of work, but I tried not to let myself dwell on the issues when doing so led to discouragement, or when things went terribly wrong.
I made an effort to find times to turn my brain off from research and focus on something fun (whether reading a book, watching tv/movies, going out, etc). When I transitioned from courses to full-time research, I rarely worked in the evenings. Food is something else that is important to me, so I made sure to explore new restaurants/bars/coffee shops/etc in my area on a regular basis.
I have been fortunate to have attended schools with beautiful campuses placed in cool areas. I would often take breaks to go for walks and get out of the lab/away from my computer when my thought process would stagnate.
I consistently did group exercise classes in the gym at least twice a week.
I did not do self-care intentionally or on a regular basis. But after a stressed deadline, I would love to do some exercise, play some games, hang out with friends or do other things (such as cooking) to relax. I think perhaps another good way to avoid too much stress is to complete the tasks one by one, instead of doing multiple things simultaneously and never accomplish any of them. The feeling of some achievement is needed from time to time and I am still learning to do that.
Work out and play sports like squash and golf. I also tried to keep my reading of non-academic material up throughout graduate school.
I’ll be honest, the term self-care wasn’t a thing when I was a graduate student. It’s possible the concept existed, but we certainly didn’t understand the importance of it. When I started at MIT, I was newly married and living off-campus. Looking back at those days, my version of self-care consisted of being home for dinner when my husband got off work, weekends filled with home improvement tasks like painting, cutting a hole in our attic and refinishing floors. As I became a mother who was also a graduate student, the demands of that schedule forced me to be home for dinner, not work on weekends (because: groceries, soccer, dance, …). I wouldn’t call it self-care. I remember those years as constantly feeling “behind”, “tired”, and “not good enough”.
Now that I’ve “grown-up” (and I use that label loosely), I have really embraced the idea of the self-care bank. I make little intentional deposits along the way and this has let me find a sustainable version of myself. Are there days or weeks when I am tired or overwhelmed by the to-do list that I face? Yes. I would be lying to you if I said otherwise. On the whole, though, those feelings of not being able to keep up with my own self are basically gone.
Here are some ideas for developing your own Self-Care Bank:
- Go from “I should exercise more” to “I actually exercise”
- Take some time to clear out the small stuff
- If you do one thing: Go for a walk
Shahrouz Mohaghe earned a Ph.D. from Oklahoma State
Kimberly Stevens graduated with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Brigham Young University in December of 2018. She is now a Lillian Gilbreth Postdoctoral Fellow in Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University.
Francesca Bernardi is a Dean’s Post-Doctoral Scholar in the Department of Mathematics at Florida State University. Her research focuses on wastewater filtering and porous media. She received a Ph.D. in Mathematics and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2018. She is the co-founder of Girls Talk Math – a free day camp for female and gender non-conforming high school students interested in Mathematics and Media. She is part of the Leadership Board at 500 Women Scientists – a non-profit grassroots organization aimed at making science more open, inclusive, and accessible. @fra_berni
Taylor Killian graduated from Harvard with a Masters in Computational Science in 2017 and worked for at MIT Lincoln Laboratory for two years as part of his fellowship program. He is now in a Ph.D. program at the University of Toronto where he’ll work at the intersection of Machine Learning and Healthcare. @tw_killian Linkedin Github
Chris Cloney graduated in April 2018 with a